Delta outage proves airline industry technology obsolete

In this fantastic article on ZDNet, Larry Dignan discusses the most recent technology outage that has affected the airline industry, the Delta outage that started on Sunday. Affecting an incredible over 800 flights (the last time I checked… it could certainly be bigger by now!) over the last 48 hours, tens of thousands of travelers were stranded, making for a public relations headache that is second to none.

According to NBC News, everything from check-in systems, airport screens, and even the Delta website and smartphone apps were affected by this global computer failure (read: meltdown of epic proportions). Flight attendants and check-in crews resorted to – gasp! – Writing out paper tickets by hand. How analog, right?

The six-hour outage was catastrophic, to put it mildly. But it brings about a more important question, how could this happen when there are so many fail-safes in place with modern technology? Not to mention that this is not the first major outage to cause headaches for the airline industry, after Southwest Airlines had a similar multi-day outage in July 2016, as did United/Continental in both June and July. To put it simply, as Dignan states in his piece because airlines as a whole have been running for far too long on “cobbled together legacy systems.”

A majority of airlines today are still run on antiquated systems from before government bailouts meant they couldn’t turn a profit. Integrations have been shoved to the side in the name of seat cushions and improvements to the actual flying portion of the business. Which is fine, in itself, but what do you do when a faulty router is the one thing that can bring you down?

“[T]hese modern-day airlines are running on 1990s software in some cases.”

Wait, what?! In this era of technology everywhere, and cloud-based everything, what do you mean that major international corporations pulling in billions of dollars in profits annually are still running on systems from almost 30 years ago?! Sorry – this gets my crazy lady gander up.

Dignan goes on to provide some not-so-easy, but incredibly smart, solutions for the airline industry as a whole to get things moving, including:

  • Critical systems move to the cloud
  • Update systems as a whole
  • Take an agile approach for upgrades
  • Shift focus from front-end to back-end

If you had Delta Airlines on a Skype call and could offer your best advice as an IT Professional, what are some pointers and suggestions you might make to avoid an outage like what we saw on Sunday? Let us know in the comments below!

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